The Finnish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong celebrates its 30th anniversary this year 2016. Emilia Tavakoli, the Executive Director (ED) of FinnCham, is in charge of organizing what will be the grandest event this chamber has hosted so far. We learn more about Emilia and this pivotal year for Finncham Hong Kong.
“Right now we are preparing the Chamber’s 30th anniversary, which will be held on 25 November and the Finland’s 100th birthday next year. It’s like planning a wedding, but with far more business interests,” She smiles.
Since Emilia entered here role the Finnish community has been more active than ever. She is known for striving to constantly improve and innovate the chamber; which is proved by her “Young Professional”-upstart group and engaging younger Finns to take action and work with the Chamber.
“The youth is the future, and I want to let them know the chamber exists to support them.”
Working with both young and adults from different business fields, Emilia must be prepared to adjust her mind set and focus constantly. Her background has already given her the blessing of being versatile, but she is happy to keep developing this quality. Of all things she is most happy about the great help she always finds in the Finnish community in Hong Kong.
“Our community is the best thing! Since I came here as the new girl in town, I have met great support not only from the board members, but from the whole community in general. We have limited resources being a small chamber, but our members are so active, and that’s the reason behind our success.”
Emilia has literary been around the world; from Europe to United States and now Asia. She was born in Stockholm and studied in San Diego before coming to Hong Kong. But how come FinnCham chose a woman who never lived in Finland to present their country in Southeast Asia? Emilia has asked this question herself many times, but she thinks she has found the answer.
Since she was little her family had been on the go, always looking for the next adventure. A home address never remained constant for the Tavakoli’s, but one thing for sure did: their love for the Finnish culture. Emilia spent all of her summers and Christmases with her Finnish family in both Sweden and Finland. She and her parents cooked Finnish dishes and spoke their native language wherever they were in the world.
In 2013 Emilia found herself working as a qualified lawyer in estate planning law in California, and was bored. Influenced by her parents’ traveling lifestyle, the time had come for Emilia, too, to look for the next journey. For a long time, she had been dreaming of going to Asia.
“I needed to be in a city with a pulse and excitement”.
She already had an idea where she would find it.
“There was just something about Hong Kong that fascinated me. I wanted to go and see one of the most growing and vibrant cities in the world with a culture I was not familiar with yet. I just had to go.”
As a modern nomad, she packed her bag and bought a one-way-ticket to Hong Kong in July 2013.
Here she knew no-one, but the lively can-do-spirit of Emilia suddenly found herself mingling in Finnish community networking events in Hong Kong. She found out that a job position was open as ED at Finncham and when she learned more details about the position, she had no doubt: “This position was tailored to me. Completely.”
She took the chance and applied for the job.
“I was not sure if they would accept a non-Finn to be the face of the Finnish community.”
Just like Emilia was ready for a change and a challenge, so was FinnCham. The job was hers.
She was welcomed to the chamber with an assignment more challenging than she could think of, but Emilia was ready to jump in. Two months later, she found herself organizing the Finnish Independence day, the biggest annual event of the year, as the new Executive Director of Finnish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
“Don’t ever settle in your comfort zone. I believe it’s healthy to challenge yourself, no matter what.”
After two and a half years’ experience of organizing events, Emilia is ready to host some of the grandest events in the history of the chamber coming up later in 2016 and 2017.
Emilia has experienced an increasing Chinese interest to focus on Finland since she took over the helm at Finncham.
“There are four strong trends right now: Finnish education, food, fashion and lifestyle products. China has fallen in love with Finnish berries, Marimekko and other fashion brands, and especially Finnish way of education.”
Emilia is already arranging a conference on the latter, where Finnish companies will promote educational products to Chinese parents and schools;
“The education in Hong Kong and China tends to be heavily focused on memorization and long hours of studying, while Finnish education is focused on creativity, play time, innovation, and twenty-first century skills that will allow the students to prosper when they enter the workforce. Finland also has excellent PISA test results, which has created interest from Asia into how these results were achieved in Finland.”
This Finnish Education Conference is a way to foster dialogue, learn from each other, and showcase something Finland is truly excellent at.
A local Hong Kong TV station will make a documentary about the Finnish education system and will attend the Finnish Chamber’s conference together with a local Hong Kong radio and other media.
The relationship between Finland and China are blooming. Emilia experiences how the amount of interest from Finland is growing, and how corporate members help Finnish companies to China. At the same time, China is becoming more interested in Finnish products, lifestyle and culture. Even the Finnish moomin trolls are now playing in Chinese theatres, and the popular Finnish “Angry Birds” is coming out with an animated movie this spring.
Girl on the go
Her Finnish career in Hong Kong happened “at the right time and the right place” according to Emilia.
Emilia never regretted coming to Asia. Since arriving to Hong Kong, she has not been visiting Finland, but the Finnish community has made her feel like at home. She is very happy about her position at the Finnish Chamber. At the moment, she adds.
“No person should stay in this position for more than three years. I think the dedication to promote one’s country will always be there, and for me I will always be involved with the chamber no matter what. But I think after three years you have to begin a new chapter to get fresh ideas and keep yourself motivated.”
Always looking for the next adventure, Emilia has already an idea for “what’s next”, which will unlikely her past; she is considering to stay on.
“I will not stay in Hong Kong forever, but when I finish working for the chamber I would love to put an effort in real estate here.”
Her ideal is to have a base in Hong Kong, and a little cottage in Finland to spend the summers.
“And also a couple of homes in other parts of the world!”
“I am excited about the next adventure to come, but right now, Hong Kong is the perfect place for me to be.”
No matter where in the world she will be, she will always feel Finnish by heart.